Strawberries and balsamic vinegar are a classic combination. Strawberries and cream are a classic combination as well. And good balsamic vinegar drizzled over vanilla ice cream is yet another classic.
They all seemed like such good friends, I decided to combine them in a different way. Strawberry ice cream. Balsamic vinegar ice cream. Garnished with some fresh strawberries. No need for drizzling, unless you want an extra punch of flavor.
Or, for something different, macerate some strawberries in sugar and just a touch of balsamic vinegar, and use those as your garnish.
I hemmed and hawed a little bit about what sort of balsamic vinegar to get. The super-expensive, aged 100-year stuff was out of the question. But I didn't want the super-cheap stuff, either. I wanted the richness and depth of flavor to shine through before the acidity curdled the milk. In the end, I settled for a bottle of good vinegar made by Elsa.
Then I moved on to the pink part of the duo. The strawberry ice cream.
When I was a kid, it seemed like Neapolitan ice cream showed up at every birthday party I was invited to. Stripes of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream, all in one container - and if mom or dad was adept at scooping, you'd end up with a scoop of ice cream with all three flavors. It looked pretty, but I absolutely hated the strawberry ice cream.
I liked strawberries well enough, but even as a kid I recognized that the strawberry ice cream of the day tasted very little like actual strawberries. And the little bits of strawberry were either gummy or icy. Neither was very good. The chocolate and vanilla ice creams in the Neapolitan combo were never outstanding, but they were edible. The strawberry, not so much.
Until I made my own ice cream, I never found one that I liked well enough to try a second time. To take care of the texture issues, I puree the strawberries and strain out the seeds so there are no icy-gummy bits and no seed gravel. What I'm left with is a smooth, creamy ice cream that tastes like strawberries and fresh cream.
This strawberry ice cream isn't quite as creamy as some of the ice creams I make, since the strawberries add a lot of water to the mix. Even though I'm using all cream instead of half-and-half or milk in the mix, the fat content is reduced because of all the water in the berries.
In theory, you could cook the strawberries to reduce the amount of water, but then the berries wouldn't taste as fresh. Or you could reduce the amount of berries, but that would weaken the strawberry flavor. I think this version has just the right balance of flavor, fat, sweetness, and berry flavor.
Using egg yolks to make a custard would also thicken the ice cream and make it seem creamier, but that changes the flavor. It's a fine version of ice cream, but this one is all about freshness. Fresh berries and fresh cream. Like strawberries and whipped cream - but a little colder.
To make this ice cream, you don't need the prettiest berries. In fact, the ones that are just starting to get a little soft can be the sweetest, so don't be afraid to use those. Cut away any bruises or bad spots, but don't fret if they're slightly overripe.
This recipe calls for 1 pound of berries, but I'd suggest that you buy more so you have plenty to use as garnishes. Or, if you prefer, steal a few from the ice cream recipe and set them aside for your garnish.
Strawberry Ice Cream
1 cup cane sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups heavy cream
Combine strawberries, sugar, and salt in a nonreactive bowl. Stir to combine, then cover and refrigerate for at a least a few hours, or overnight. The berries will soften and the sugar will dissolve.
Put the strawberries and all the liquid into a blender. Blend until smooth. (You can also mash by hand or use a food processor. Pass the mixture through a fine strainer. You should have nothing left but seeds. Since the mixture will have warmed up a bit during this time, cover and chill it for at least an hour or so.
Combine the strawberry mixture with the cream. Whisk well to combine, then churn in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Transfer to a freezer-safe container and freeze until firm.
Balsamic Ice Cream
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 - 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
Combine the condensed milk, cream, salt, and 1/4 cup of the balsamic vinegar in a bowl. Whisk to combine. It will thicken as you whisk.
Since balsamic vinegars will vary in tartness and depth of flavor, you'll need to taste and adjust this mixture. Keep in mind that both sweetness and tartness will be muted when this is frozen. You should taste a little kick of the vinegar, but it shouldn't be sour. Add more vinegar, as needed. For the vinegar I used, 6 tablespoons (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) was the perfect amount.
Cover the bowl (or transfer to a storage container and refrigerate for at least several hours, or overnight.
Churn in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. Transfer the ice cream to a freezer-proof storage container and freeze until firm.
To Serve: You'll end up with about twice as much strawberry ice cream as the balsamic - and that's just about right. The strawberry should be the star. Garnish with extra berries.
When I was working on this recipe, I kept thinking that it needed just one more thing. I was looking for something that would add a little texture; a little crunch. But I didn't want anything that would compete with the flavor of the berries and balsamic. Nuts seemed wrong - too rich to go with the rich ice cream. Cookies didn't seem right, either.
Then I thought that maybe a dessert drink would work, so I made my way to the Whole Foods liquor store where I asked for advice. They suggested a bubbly wine - just a little taste - to go with the ice cream. It makes perfect sense. The crispness of the wine would cut the richness of the ice cream. So that was the final piece of the puzzle.